I’ve been researching fairy tales my whole life. Of course, back when I was a kid, I just called it reading, but looking back, I can see all the research splayed out before me. I memorized the Jabberwocky poem from Through the Looking Glass. I obsessed over A Midsummer Night’s Dream, envisioning the day I might play Titania on the stage (spoiler alert: that day never came.) When I was sixteen, a friend gave me a Good Faeries/Bad Faeries calendar, and that opened me up to the world of Brian Froud. From there I got into Arthurian legend, from Sir Thomas Malory to The Mists of Avalon. Anything faerie or magic related, I gobbled up.
So when I set out to write THE LAST CHANGELING, I felt like I was set. I’d done the research. I knew the ins-and-outs of Faerie. And sure, I would make up my own world and my own rules, but all of it would be drawn from the things I’d studied over the years, the things I’d learned. No more research required.
Turns out I was wrong. Not far into the writing process, I realized there was still something I needed to research, and it fell on the human side of things (who knew!) One of my characters, Kylie, the seventeen-year-old president of the gay-straight alliance, sustained a spinal cord injury at age eight and has been using a wheelchair ever since. I didn’t plan this, exactly. It’s just something I knew about the character, in the same way I knew all my characters’ histories, their hardships and successes, their family lives and their secrets. Kylie’s injury was one of the many things about her, and while her story wasn’t about that, I also didn’t want to gloss over it. I wanted to do her story justice.
And so, researching I went! Since Kylie’s experience wasn’t something I understood on a personal level, I needed to approach research from many different angles. I couldn’t just read medical journals (although, of course, that was important too). I also found YouTube videos on all sorts of related subjects (including people with spinal cord injuries riding horses). I read through the posts on the wonderful Disability in Kidlit blog (seriously, you guys, I recommend reading through every single post on that site).
And even then, there were things I missed. I had a reader point out several instances where I hadn’t gotten things quite right, like the fact that I had no mention of how Kylie got from one floor to another at her school. Little details like this are so important, and no matter how much research you do, there’s always the possibility of leaving them out. That’s why it’s a good idea to reach out to beta readers who have insights that you don’t. It’s not always easy, and reaching out to strangers can be awkward, but it’s worth it to make that effort. Your characters deserve it!
In the end, some of the things I researched didn’t make it into the book (although more of Kylie’s history is revealed in Book 2!) The final draft focuses more on Kylie’s aspirations at school, her involvement in the gay-straight alliance, her relationship with her twin brother, and her feelings for . . . someone (no spoilers, okay?) Still, it was important for me to know those details, both as a writer who likes to know everything about her characters, and as a person writing outside of her personal experience. I think that any time a person is writing diverse characters, it’s better to research ALL THE THINGS (or at least try) than to come up short and miss something important. Approach your research from many different angles. You may still misstep. I may still misstep. But the effort is more than important—it is necessary in writing responsibly, and in doing your wonderful characters justice.
Thanks so much for reading, and thank you to Diayll for having me!!!